MORRISVILLE, N.Y. — Kerin Warner left Rutgers University with a degree in history, but circumstances and a lifetime of horses led him in a different direction.
Instead of chronicling past events in a classroom, he followed in his father’s and uncle’s footsteps as a harness racing trainer and driver — a career that has saddled him personal rewards running SUNY Morrisville’s equine Standardbred racing bachelor’s degree program and earned him Top Trainer in 2020 at Vernon Downs racetrack.
Warner led all trainers in 2020 with 19 wins. In his overall career, he is closing in on 1,000 wins.
“It is a pretty cool accomplishment especially because it’s only my second full year at Morrisville and Vernon Downs,” Warner said of his most recent accolade.
A culmination of hard work, determination and trying to turn around a program with low enrollment is part of what got him there.
“Every student had a hand in this with the everyday care of the horses and jogging, training and racing them,” he said. “Without the students and my fellow staff and faculty members, none of this would be possible.”
But the wins aren’t what it’s all about for Warner. His sights are set on preparing the next generation of harness racers for the industry.
In SUNY Morrisville’s Standardbred program, students gain hands-on experience working with assigned horses on a daily basis. When they successfully complete the United States Trotters Association (USTA) driver/trainer test and other mandated requirements, they are eligible to race horses on the New York county fair circuit or amateur driving events at a local pari-mutuel track.
Warner is making sure his students are seasoned for the industry, giving them plenty of practice learning how to be a Standardbred driver and trainer.
Students assisted Warner throughout the semester and during the summer, warming up SUNY Morrisville- and client-owned horses racing on a given night at Vernon Downs, where three SUNY Morrisville horses and 15 client horses raced this season.
“There’s countless hours at the track and every weekend,” Warner described of the work involved.
There is plenty to do on campus, too, where students are involved in all of the daily work associated with the racing barn.
Every morning, Warner and his students give drivers a view of daily practice on the college’s half-mile harness racing track — the nation’s only such track on a college campus — across from the Equine Center on Swamp Road.
Since he joined the SUNY Morrisville staff in 2019, Warner has shared his passion for the industry and tricks of the trade with dozens of students.
This year is a special one as his first students graduate from the program.
Warner grew up in Jackson, New Jersey, later choosing colleges that offered him a chance to play baseball. When neither Texas A&M or Rutgers University offered anything horse-related, he chose to study history.
He had intentions of being a veterinarian if baseball fell through, but when his father, the late trainer and driver Warren Gabettie, had a stroke, he took over his stable and followed him and his late Uncle Robert Gabettie into harness racing.
Warner spent many years working on the 225-acre farm and training facility, in northern New Jersey, where he did everything from training and breeding to shoeing. With looming health concerns and high taxes an issue, he decided to shut down his stable and take the position at SUNY Morrisville.
He never looks back on that decision.
Warner plans to continue to grow the college’s Standardbred racing program and make SUNY Morrisville a prominent name in the racing industry.
“This is an industry that needs younger people becoming more involved at all levels,” he said. “From racing, breeding and becoming a racing official, our youth is what will continue to grow this sport.”
He also hopes to establish a certificate program in equine racing at SUNY Morrisville.
Assisting Warner at Vernon Downs are the following students:
Olivia Vorhees, of Pine City (Elmira), New York
Cayla White, of Rochester, New York
Taylor Brandofino, of Long Island, New York
Jessica Burlew, of Hopatcong, New Jersey
Mikaila Kurfis, of Marcellus, New York
Sophie Norton, of Utica, New York
Bridgette Smith, of New Hartford, New York
Jasmine Summers, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania
SUNY Morrisville’s diverse program offerings prepare students for careers in equine racing, breeding, rehabilitation breeding and more. Facilities include the only half-mile harness racing track on a college campus in the nation and rehabilitation, breeding and training centers.